Family Rafting in Dinosaur National Monument, Utah

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 14222A, Raft


  • Raft in spectacular 2,500-foot-deep wilderness canyons
  • Discover hidden waterfalls and desert rock art
  • View dinosaur bones and search for fossils


  • Rafting gear and all meals on the river
  • Licensed professional guides
  • Oar-powered rafts, paddle raft, and inflatable kayaks 


DatesAug 3–7, 2014
Price$925 (Adult)
$825 (Child)
Min. Age6
StaffDan Leighton

Trip Overview

The Trip

Ride whitewater Class II-IV rapids and float down peaceful stretches of Utah's spectacular Green River. Canyon walls tower above as we float back in geologic time to when dinosaurs dominated this land. We'll also swim, hike, discover American Indian pictographs, and enjoy games in camp. The perfect family vacation, this trip is suitable for river novices and children ages six and older.

We will use three or four oar-powered rafts, each guided by an experienced and licensed river guide. Trip members may freely switch boats during the course of a day and throughout the trip. In addition to the oar boats, we will have inflatable kayaks and a paddle raft for part-time, shared use.

Each night we will make camp at a different site along the river. After everyone helps unload the equipment off the rafts, we will each set up our own tent sites and have some time for other activities while the river guides prepare dinner. 


Day 1: Vernal Utah is known as “dinosaur land." Included in the trip price are activities to help you and your family get the most out of this special place. We’ll have time to visit the world-famous Carnegie Quarry, where an entire wall of embedded dinosaur bones is on display. We will also have a guided tour at the Utah Field House of Natural History State Park Museum in downtown Vernal. And the young future paleontologists in the group will especially enjoy time spent searching for actual fossils on nearby BLM lands.

Pre-rafting meeting: All trip members must participate in an orientation meeting late on the afternoon before the rafting portion of the trip. At this meeting, each trip member will receive a large waterproof river bag and tips on packing. We'll also answer any last-minute questions and finalize arrangements for the following morning's departure. After the meeting, trip members will pack all personal clothing and gear (except tents) into the waterproof bags to be ready for a prompt departure. Tents will be stored collectively on the rafts in other waterproof bags.

Day 2: The morning that we begin our four-day float, we will travel to the outfitter’s base in Jensen, Utah and then take a three-hour van ride to the launch site in Colorado. Shortly after we launch on the water, we enter the dramatic "Gates of Lodore," a dramatic portal to the colorful maze of the Green River's Lodore Canyon.

Day 3: We'll experience several dramatic rapids, including Harp Falls, Triplet Falls, and the exciting "Hells Half Mile." We'll stop later in the day for a hike up a quiet side canyon.

Day 4: On the next day, we'll pass through Echo Park, where the Yampa (the last undammed tributary of the Colorado) joins the Green River from the east. The river curls right around imposing Steamboat Rock, rising 1,000 feet above us.

Day 5: The final day we'll travel through Whirlpool Canyon, Island Park, and Rainbow Park to our take-out location below Split Mountain Gorge, Utah, near the quarry that gives Dinosaur National Monument its name.

Each day we'll stop for lunch at a secluded beach, and spend the night in a reserved campground listening to the river flow. While we will have some group activities, there is plenty of time for individual exploration, and children will find plenty of interesting activities. You will have a chance to a hike side canyons, build beach castles, look for lizards, scan the canyon walls for eagles and bighorn sheep, view rock art, swim, or simply find a quiet place to absorb the beauty of the canyon and the music of the river.

We will return to Vernal (via Jensen) after our take-out, via a 45-minute van ride. Our arrival time, depending on river conditions, should be mid- to late-afternoon of day five. The trip closes with a pizza party in Vernal!



Getting There

The trip will begin and end in Vernal, Utah, about 12 miles west of Jensen. Directions will be available. The nearest major airports with commercial service are Salt Lake City, Utah, or Grand Junction, Colorado. Flights directly into Vernal are available from Denver on Great Lakes Airline, a United partner. If you arrive in Vernal by car, you can leave the car in Vernal or drive it to Jensen on the morning of departure and store your car there. A van will take us to the put-in. If you don't have a car, there is shuttle transportation to the rafting put-in and from the take-out locations.

Accommodations and Food

You don't have to cook or plan! All meals from lunch on the first day through lunch on the last day will be provided, as will snacks. Remember to eat breakfast and bring a snack before you arrive at our meeting place on the first day. Please indicate any dietary issues on your trip application; most dietary requirements can be accommodated.

Water, juices, coffee, and tea are provided; sodas and alcoholic beverages are not. You may bring a limited supply of your own preferred beverages in aluminum cans, wine boxes, or plastic bottles. Glass containers are not allowed on the river! 

Trip Difficulty

This trip is for beginner to intermediate rafters. Our day-to-day itinerary is flexible and will depend on river levels, weather conditions, and the inclinations of the group. We will move at a leisurely pace, allowing plenty of time for swimming, hiking, photography, and exploring.

Our first priority will be water safety, on and off the river. Flotation devices will be provided. Children ages six to eleven will need to wear their life jackets at all times while on the rafts, swimming, or playing near the river. The most serious rapids will be run in oar-powered rafts to provide the safest possible experience. A parent, grandparent, or guardian must accompany each child on the trip.

Our side-canyon explorations will range from easy walks to more difficult hikes requiring some scrambling. Although these hikes are optional, good physical conditioning is important in any wilderness outing. We strongly recommend that you engage in a program of regular exercise prior to the trip. Also note that participants who wish to spend part of the time in the inflatable kayaks or the paddle raft will need to be in good physical condition.

Trip members are expected to assist in loading and unloading the rafts. Families must be able to take care of their personal needs and attend to their own tent sites, although the staff will be able to work with parents and children who need assistance with getting their camp set up.

Daytime temperatures range from 70-95 degrees, but low humidity makes it quite comfortable. Nighttime lows will be in the 60s and 70s. Thunderstorms are possible, although early August is usually a pleasant time on the plateau.

Equipment and Clothing

The leader will provide a detailed equipment list to registered participants. Please also note that there are some items you should leave behind, including stereos, radios, electronic games, and even your watches -- we'll be on "river time" once the trip begins!  Tents, sleeping bags, and sleeping pads will available for rental if needed at additional cost.


Having some basic background on the desert Southwest's natural and human history will greatly enhance your experience on this trip. The following books are especially recommended:

  • Belknap, Buzz, and Loie B. Evans, Dinosaur River Guide. Strip maps of the Green and Yampa rivers, showing rapids, points of interest, and river lore. Made of waterproof paper to be used while on the river.
  • Hansen, Wallace R., Dinosaur's Restless Rivers and Craggy Canyon Walls. A guide to the geology of Dinosaur National Monument. Printed on waterproof paper to be used while on the river.
  • Cosco, Jon M., Echo Park: Struggle for Preservation. The complete story of the battle to save Dinosaur and defeat the Echo Park Dam, featuring the leadership role of the Sierra Club.
  • Harvey , Mark W. T., A Symbol of Wilderness: Echo Park and the American Conservation Movement. An in-depth account of the battle to save Dinosaur and defeat the Echo Park Dam, and the role this struggle played in the growth of the conservation movement in the post-World War Two era.
  • Cole, Sally J., Legacy on Stone: Rock Art of the Colorado Plateau and Four Corners Region. Describes the rock art and cultures of prehistoric and modern people of canyon country.
  • Powell, John Wesley, The Exploration of the Colorado River and Its Canyons. The historic, heroic 1869 descent of the Green and Colorado rivers. 


We will take time to consider and discuss the conservation issues facing northeastern Utah and the rest of the state's public lands. Our trip will take us through or close to several wilderness study areas proposed for inclusion in the National Wilderness Preservation System. After you have experienced these areas for four days at river level, it's our hope that you will find it easier to champion them -- or others closer to home. We will also consider the area's conservation history and the tremendous battles that were fought to save Dinosaur National Monument in the 1950s. 

In 2014 America celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. The Sierra Club, various other organizations with a wilderness focus, and the four federal wilderness management agencies are vigorously planning this celebration. The goal of the effort is to assure that a broader public knows about the concept and benefits of wilderness. Sierra Club Outings is a vital part of the celebrations for wilderness.
While the Act was far in the future when our outings program started, we were already promoting the principle behind it: to forever set aside from human developments certain special places, by civic agreement. This is the basic principle on which the Sierra Club was founded. The wilderness anniversary gives us an opportunity to highlight our organization’s leading role—in publicizing this principle, in passing the 1964 Act, and in achieving more designated wilderness since then.



Dan Leighton has led numerous Sierra Club water trips and run many rivers on the west and east coasts. He's also traveled extensively to wilderness areas throughout the West. With a background in environmental engineering and water resources, he brings an in-depth perspective on western water, conservation, and environmental issues to every trip. Dan looks forward to introducing everyone to this unique area and leading you on this spectacular journey.

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